Bits and Bites on Un Canadien errant

Bits and Bites of Everyday Life
Geneviève Hone will move you to tears of pleasure as she
visits her great-grandfather who wrote Un Canadien errant
By Geneviève Hone
True North Perspective

Geneviève Hone is a grandmother, family therapist and social worker. With her husband, Julien Mercure (also a family therapist), she has co-authored three books on couples and family life. Her home on the web is

  Tomb, photo provided by Geneviève Hone.
  Photo provided by Geneviève Hone.

24 May 2013 “So”, says my husband as we linger over morning coffee, “What subject have you chosen for the next Bits and Bites? You mentioned yesterday that you had two great ideas.”

“Well, I did”, I reply, somewhat sheepishly, “But I don’t remember what they were.” He bursts out laughing: this kind of conversation is replaying too often in our advancing age, but it’s all right. After all, we did decide, some time ago, though I don’t exactly remember when, that we would laugh at and with ourselves till the day we no longer could or should, and then we would cry… for help. Or if we left it too late, our loved ones certainly would inform us that the time had come for additional help in travelling safely through our ordinary days.

But meanwhile, I have lost my two great ideas for the Bits and Bites article and, seriously, that is no laughing matter as great ideas for articles are not that easy to come by. I stir my coffee, hoping that some nice genie will emerge and dictate a fully edited article to my brain, but the mug is as devoid of genius as I am this morning. I do remember though that today is spring checkup day for our car, so I prepare to leave, bringing a book to pass the time while waiting for the results of the examination. Once at the garage however, I put the book aside and decide to walk toward the cemetery down the road, where my great-grandfather Antoine (GGFA) lies peacefully, or so my family hopes.

I have never visited GGFA’s tomb, so I go to the cemetery office to enquire as to its whereabouts. I learn that GGFA’s coordinates, so to speak, have not yet been listed in the electronic catalog. A search through the old records would be useless at this point due to the fact that I do not know GGFA’s precise dates of birth or death. Oh well, I say to myself, I’ll just wander among the dead and from the inscriptions on their monuments get a sense of the history of the people buried here.

I like cemeteries and I try to visit a few wherever I travel. Cemeteries are usually peaceful places, often quite beautiful, and the inscriptions often very moving. Whenever I set foot in a cemetery, I say a prayer, not for the people buried there as they probably don’t really need more prayers to continue peacefully resting, but to these people. I would call this a prayer of homage because all these people have done something I have not yet done. They have died. In my book, this puts them way ahead of me in life.

So here’s the deal, I inform GGFA. I’ll just wander around in the 50 acre garden that you share with 130,000 peaceful neighbors. There are many paths and twists and turns, and I have no idea where to find you. If you would like me to find you today, guide me. Sorry to have to ask this of you, but till I can produce your birth date, it’s the only way I can visit you. I must tell you that I have information that might be of interest to you. For one thing, I could tell you lots about a world that has greatly changed since your death in 1882, so much so that you probably wouldn’t believe me.

I could also tell you things about my grand-mother Gabrielle who was your daughter. She was only 7 years old when you died, so you don’t know what she became. I am happy to inform you that she and her husband raised nine children through hard times, making sure they stayed in school far beyond the basic education system of day. All six girls graduated from college, a huge accomplishment at a time where women in Quebec were still fighting for the right to vote! Your daughter was a very determined woman, let me tell you. You can be proud of her, GGFA.  

I walk slowly along meandering paths, stopping here and there, and unexpectedly, I find myself looking directly at a tall obelisk type tombstone, GGFA’s final resting place. I guess GGFA has awakened from some kind of death induced lethargy to guide me here. I speak quietly to GGFA, telling him that I read his books a long time ago. They actually were required reading material when I was in high school. I also tell him that the poem he composed in 1842 in memory of the Canadians exiled after the 1837-1838 rebellion, and then put to a French folk song, has endured and still remains a popular ballad in Québec. “Un Canadien errant… Banni de ses foyers…” I sing it softly to GGFA, all five verses of it, smiling at the fact that I can remember all these words learned long ago, but not the two great ideas I had yesterday.

I must head back to the garage. So I say goodbye and thank you to GGFA, promising to return, now that I know where he lives. I shall write about this little adventure, I say to myself as I walk back toward the garage. I shall write about memory and memories, about how we hope to be remembered, about what we wish to leave behind for our families. Yes, I shall write about all this… if I remember to!

I arrive at the garage, where the mechanic informs me that all is fine, except that eventually, he will need to replace the memory in the turbotrifugalator. I nod seriously, trying to convey the impression that I understand these strange words, but all I really get is: “replace the memory”. You mean we can do this with cars, though we can’t do that with people?! Not fair! If I have some choice in the matter, I will apply to come back as an automobile in my next life. And as a Mercedes, as my husband will no doubt suggest!